Ryan McCambridge is impressed by this Swedish firm’s first attempt at a non-instrument product.
In the months leading up to the release of this product, I found myself scouring the audio community trying to find a stereo distortion unit that was adaptable enough to handle multiple level inputs so as to maximise its versatility as a tool in the studio. I use fuzz when tracking guitars, grit on synths for sound designs and I love adding saturation and drive when mixing. Distortion is in my sonic DNA and in a renaissance of guitar pedals it surprised me that the market was so segregated between tools for the studio and tools for the musician. Until now.
Analog Heat is the latest release from the Swedish company Elektron, which is renowned for its progressive thinking in the synth market. This is the company’s first deviation from actual instruments, citing the unit as a “stereo analogue sound processor,” which is justifiably vague given how comprehensive the unit is. It’s easy to think of the Analog Heat as being just a stereo distortion, of which there are eight flavours, but it also houses a stereo analogue multi-mode filter with seven filter types, as well as two bands of adaptable analogue EQ, an assignable envelope generator and follower, and an LFO. It’s blatantly obvious that Elektron aimed high and wanted to rethink what a signal processor could do.
I can’t overstate how unexpectedly inspiring and musical the Analog Heat is. The eight flavours of distortion are well chosen, varying from driving preamps, to tape saturation, to tube harmonics, to many variants of fuzz and crunch. Once you get over the novelty of mangling everything that you run through it, you realise that there’s a lot of benefit in its subtlety – particularly the lighter flavours, like Clean Boost, Saturation and Enhancement, which can offer just a tinge of compression and harmonics to help glue drums, loops or even overall busses. But that’s just the first link in the chain – I wasn’t prepared for its creative potential, which is really only unleashed once you get the various processing tools interacting with each other.
No cutting corners
The seven filter types give a diverse range of possibilities for sonic manipulation, but even more notable is that the filter actually sounds great. It would have been easy for Elektron to economise here, but thankfully they didn’t. Modifying the wet/dry signals while using high-pass or low-pass filters allows you to affect only some of the frequencies, which is helpful for tailoring the sound. Tremolo and vibrato effects are also easily achievable using the LFO, which has multiple wave shapes for different pulsations. These can be free running, tempo-set, or tempo-locked to the incoming MIDI clock. If the LFO is used in conjunction with the filter, you can build phaser and filter sweep effects, which can of course be tempo-synced. If triggering from velocity using the envelope follower, the transient of a signal can really be altered and even pushed into wah effects. Finally, there are two bands of adaptable analogue equalisation. Though not user-definable, the frequencies and their curves change depending on where the EQ is set and Elektron’s choices never struck me as sounding bloated or harsh.
All parameters are MIDI controllable and yet there’s an even better way of automating the Analog Heat. Most of Elektron’s newer products can share a software connection through a free program they call Overbridge, which is accessible via a USB connection to a Mac or PC. For the Analog Heat, this means a software interface of all of the unit’s parameters, but what makes this truly unique is that it can be utilised directly as an insert within your DAW. This functions as though it were a software insert, providing a software interface while actually transferring the audio through the analogue circuits of the Analog Heat. If you adjust a parameter in the software, the physical Analog Heat unit follows, and vice-versa, and all of those parameters are then automatable and recallable. This integration makes the Analog Heat feel ahead of its time, pioneering a new era in studio workflow.
My only real qualm would be that the plugin insert is only available for DAWs running VST or AU plugins. This is not surprising given Elektron’s synth lineage, which is usually associated with Ableton Live, Cubase or Logic. But now that they are headed into territories for the audio professional I hope to see an AAX version of the plugin in the future, given that Pro Tools is still the standard in most recording studios. All that said, I did get it to work in Pro Tools using DDMF’s Metaplugin, but it is a workaround and doesn’t provide the elegant experience that Elektron is trying to achieve.
There are other aspects of the Analog Heat that are worth noting, like its two controller inputs, which accept expression, CV and foot switches, as well as the MIDI In/Out/Thru with DIN sync out. And if all that wasn’t enough, the Analog Heat can also function as a 2-In/2-Out, 24-bit/48 kHz audio interface for recording and playback that runs independent of the software insert effect. All of this considered, it’s difficult to find faults in the Analog Heat, which more than justifies a price tag that some would consider steep for a “stereo analogue sound processor.”
The Analog Heat is built for tactility, inviting creative interaction. I couldn’t get enough of the demo unit, so I’ve already informed Elektron that they shouldn’t expect to get it back.
- Eight stereo analogue distortion circuits
- Stereo analogue multi-mode filter with seven filter types
- Two-band adaptable stereo analogue EQ
- Assignable envelope and LFO
- Can be used as a 2-In/2-Out, 24-bit/48 kHz audio interface
Ryan McCambridge is a freelance audio engineer, writer, producer and programmer from Toronto, Canada. He has taught audio production in workshops and universities, is the creator of the production blog Bit Crushing and is the frontman of A Calmer Collision. www.bitcrushing.comwww.acalmercollision.com